Coronavirus Update: State Bans Evictions, Foreclosures; Count of Known COVID-19 Cases Rises to 26

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Major headlines:

To Soften Economic Blow Of COVID-19, Sununu Expands Scope of Unemployment Benefits

Facing Equipment Shortages, N.H. Medical Providers Prepare for Coronavirus Surge

Special Ed, Meals and Language Barriers Pose Challenges for Manchester Remote Learning

 

Latest batch of COVID-19 cases hints at "community transmission" in N.H.

Update: Tuesday, March 17, 5:25 p.m.

State health officials announced nine new positive test results for COVID-19 in New Hampshire this afternoon, bringing the total number of known infections in the state to 26. 

The new cases are all in adults: five males and four females. Four live in Rockingham County, three in Hillsborough County, and two in Grafton County. Health officials said several of the newly identified cases are in people who were not known to have contact with an already identified case, indicating that New Hampshire is now seeing community-based transmission of COVID-19.

“The increasing number of cases and new evidence of community-based transmission raises concern that the COVID-19 outbreak is intensifying in New Hampshire,” said Dr. Ben Chan, state epidemiologist. “The state has put into place measures to help prevent larger scale transmission at schools and larger gatherings; however, it is critical for everybody to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and practice social distancing. We know that this novel coronavirus can be spread very easily through close contact, and the virus can be spread even when people are only having very mild early symptoms of illness.”

Districts begin delivering meals to students amid school closures

Update: Tuesday, March 17, 5:05 p.m.

School districts across New Hampshire are preparing for remote learning classes to begin by next Monday, in response to the statewide school closure to stem the rise of COVID-19 transmission. But today, many started remote meal services.

Some districts are implementing curbside-pickup at school. Others are dropping off breakfasts and lunches prepared at school to students at home.

Manchester launched its meal delivery program to thousands of students earlier today. Laconia says it served around 800 lunches and plans to double that on Wednesday. Claremont is starting its meal pickup services on Wednesday.

In some districts with high poverty rates, the district can offer free meals to all students under the age of 18 and get reimbursed with federal funds.

Families should contact their school district for more information.

-Sarah Gibson

N.H. hospitals concerned about coronavirus impact to their balance sheets

Update, Tuesday, March 17, 4:40 p.m.

As hospitals take steps to prepare for an outbreak of coronavirus in New Hampshire, industry experts say the virus will take a toll on their balance sheets.

 

Facilities around the state are taking drastic steps to ensure they have the capacity to treat patients. That includes cancelling elective and non-emergency procedures, as well as ramping up ways to potentially treat or test patients in unique settings, such as outdoor tents. 

 

“I think this is going to have a significant impact on all hospitals,” Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, told NHPR. “We are at a point where hospitals are spending significant amounts of resources to stand up new capacities, new processes in their organizations, and they are also announcing that they are going to be suspending services that they would normally be providing.”

 

Ahnen said in the short term, facilities will likely see a “significant impact” to their cash flows. The Hospital Association says it is in contact with the state’s federal delegation as well as state-level officials to ensure resources will be made available, if needed. 

 

-Todd Bookman

 

Governor orders ban on evictions, foreclosures to soften blow of COVID-19 response

Update Tuesday, March 17, 10:20 a.m.

Gov. Chris Sununu issued a series of orders Tuesday morning aimed at softening the financial blow for New Hampshire residents dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Chris Sununu and legislative leaders announce more steps meant to soften the financial blow of the coronavirus pandemic on New Hampshire residents, including a ban on foreclosures and evictions.
Credit Michael Brindley | NHPR

At a press conference with legislative leaders, Sununu banned all landlords from starting eviction proceedings and prohibited all foreclosures during the state of emergency initiated last week in response to COVID-19. He also barred utilities - including electric, gas, water, telephone, cable, fuel and internet providers - from disconnecting service for non-payment.

Sununu also expanded eligibility for state unemployment benefits to residents who lose work due to COVID-19; for people who are under quarantine or caring for a family member under quarantine; and for people whose employment is interrupted due to the statewide school closure that began this week.

"We're in uncharted territory," Sununu said. "So we have to make some bold decisions."

Read full story here.

State bans all large gatherings, orders restaurants to end on-site dining

Update, March 16, 4:55 p.m.

Gov. Chris Sununu is banning public gatherings of groups larger than 50 people through the state and forcing restaurants to go take-out, delivery or drive-thru only starting tomorrow, steps he said are necessary to help contain spread of the coronavirus.

The move follows new CDC guidelines on public gatherings and comes a day after Sununu said he did not think New Hampshire needed "a government mandate" to limit public gathering.

In a statement Sununu said, "knowing neighboring states have closed restaurants and bars has caused New Hampshire to evaluate those states' actions and their impact on New Hampshire's population risk profile."

Sununu's order came on the same day that state health officials announced four additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire, bringing the statewide total to 17 cases. The new cases include three adult males and a female under the age of 18.

-Josh Rogers

Click here for more on the new restaurant rules ordered by Gov. Sununu

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WATCH: Governor Chris Sununu held a press conference along with state epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan and education commissioner Frank Edelblut on Sunday, March 15. The governor announced a sweeping reponse to coronavirus, including school closures across the state, as well as the new number of identified cases in the state: 13.

New Hampshire utilities, public transit providers respond to growing coronavirus concerns

New Hampshire’s electric utilities say they’re halting disconnections for customers who are late on their bills, as coronavirus concerns escalate. 

The four companies – Unitil, Eversource, Liberty Utilities and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative – say they hope the change will reduce financial strain on people who are sick, working less or otherwise affected by the virus.

“This is one way we think that we can help support our customers during this uncertain time,” says Eversource spokesman William Hinkle.

Some companies say they’re not sure how long the contingency will stay in place.  Liberty Utilities spokesman John Shore says they plan to suspend shutoffs until at least May 1. “These are difficult times and we don’t want to see anyone lose their power or natural gas service when it is needed to keep them safe and healthy,” Shore says.

Most utilities are also taking steps to pare down field work and planned outages, and to let staff work remotely, in order to limit workers’ risk of illness. Customers are also asked to be on the lookout for a rash of scam calls and emails that have cropped up as virus fears worsened.

Public transit companies add new protocols

Public transit providers in New Hampshire are continuing to operate, with new protocols aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus.

Local bus lines – including Advance Transit in the Upper Valley, Concord Area Transit, Manchester Transit Authority and COAST on the Seacoast say they're disinfecting their vehicles more frequently.

But COAST executive director Rad Nichols says his workers are eager to stay on the road – especially for riders who need the bus to get to medical appointments or essential service jobs.

“We’re focusing our efforts on making sure that they aren’t left behind,” Nichols says.

COAST is asking riders to practice social distancing on the bus when possible by sitting farther apart from each other and from drivers. Nichols says they’ve also asked state emergency management officials for help to obtain higher-level cleaning products.

But these local transit companies are operating normal schedules for now. Nichols says that might only change if too many drivers fall ill.

Some longer-range providers – including C&J Bus Lines and the Amtrak Downeaster – are running limited service schedules.

Those companies and the Concord and Dartmouth Coaches say they’re also stepping up disinfection procedures, and waiving most change fees for ticket-holders.

Public transit users are urged to stay home when possible if they feel sick or think they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

- Annie Ropeik 

N.H. courts suspend in-person proceedings

Updated Monday, March 16, 2:00pm

New Hampshire’s legal and criminal justice systems are taking major steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the state’s courts and criminal detention facilities.

The N.H. Judicial branch is suspending all in-person proceedings through at least April 6th at courts statewide. This follows last week’s announcement that all jury trials would be postponed. 

The courts remain open to process a small range of legal matters, including bail hearings and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals, as these are deemed “necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants,” according to an order signed by N.H. Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Gary Hicks.

The courts will also still hear domestic violence orders of protection, as well as child abuse and neglect emergency proceedings, as well as other emergency motions.

Meanwhile, the N.H. Department of Corrections on Monday also announced that it will immediately suspend all visitation at state-run correctional facilities, including prohibiting lawyers from meeting face-to-face with clients. The agency says it will make accommodations for electronic communication between inmates and their legal counsel.

“The Department understands the importance of visitation, volunteer programming, interns and attorney/client activity and will be assessing and monitoring the situation on a daily basis,” writes the agency in a statement. “We will lift these restrictions when it is safe to do so. Attorneys with urgent needs should contact the Warden or designee for the facility housing their client.”

- Todd Bookman

Dartmouth-Hitchcock To Delay Elective Surgeries, Citing Shortage of Medical Supplies

Updated Sunday, March 15, 7:15 p.m. 

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, New Hampshire's largest healthcare provider, is delaying elective surgeries in an effort to plan for an expected surge in patients suffering from COVID-19.

The medical center says a nationwide shortage in medical supplies also forced the move.

"Given the rapidly evolving situation here in New Hampshire, we made this decision because we must strategically and effectively allocate our resources, including such items as surgical masks, gowns, gloves and hand sanitizers, and also prepare for staff to care for the patients we anticipate in the days and weeks to come," Joanne M. Conroy, the medical center’s president and CEO, said in a press release Sunday evening.

The medical center says it is reaching out to patients whose surgeries will be delayed. Any patient who does not receive a call about their procedure should arrive as scheduled. Doctor's appointments are not affected by the delays.

Two employees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock were the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Hampshire earlier this month.

13 cases in New Hampshire; Schools to close for 3 weeks

Updated Sunday, March 15, 2:30 p.m.

In the first of what he suggested would be a series of new executive orders, Governor Chris Sununu has directed all K-12 public schools in the state to transition to remote education and support for three weeks, beginning Monday.

“While students will not be in schools,” Sununu said, “they will be learning.”

Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut said some school districts are prepared to offer remote instruction using digital technology. He described other districts capacities as “fully analog.” All schools are expected to have education plans ready by week’s end. “Remote instruction, plus remote support, results in remote learning for our students,” Edelblut told reporters.

Read the full story here.

New Hampshire Legislature Suspends Activity

Updated Saturday, March 14, 7:15 p.m.

The New Hampshire Legislature will suspend activity for at least a week, in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

From March 16 to March 20, and potentially longer, the State House will be closed to legislators and their staff, as well as visitors. Other government operations will remain open for now.  

In a joint statement, Senate President Donna Soucy and Speaker of the House Steve Shurtleff wrote:

“As legislative leaders, our top priority is protecting the health and wellbeing of our members, staff, and the public. Out of an abundance of caution, today we are taking the step to suspend all legislative activities for at least one week. We will continue to monitor the situation and respond as needed and remain committed to working with Governor Sununu to take all necessary steps to curb the impact of coronavirus in New Hampshire.”  

Manchester To Close All Schools For Two Weeks

Updated Saturday, March 14

All Manchester schools will be closed starting Monday.

Superintendent John Goldhardt announced Saturday that city schools will move to remote learning until March 27, making Manchester the latest - and the largest - New Hampshire school district to overhaul its schedule and teaching in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Queen City is reconfiguring its operations after a seventh person in New Hampshire has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus illness. This person was at the Manchester office of the DMV several days last week, according to state health officials.

Goldhardt said parents, teachers and staff should expect further communication from their principals on further details. He said school district staff are working to coordinate distribution of food and learning materials.

“While I knew that sometime with the spread of the virus that this day would come, I wanted to wait until we absolutely had to do this,” Goldhardt said at a press conference at Manchester’s Central Fire Station.

Other city institutions are also changing practices in response to the coronavirus. Mayor Joyce Craig said the William B. Cushin Senior Activity Center will be closed for the time being.

The Manchester Public Library will remain open, but is canceling all events. The city is working with the state to test individuals who may have contracted the virus. Craig said not everyone who feels ill will be tested, especially those with more mild symptoms.

She said those with a fever and shortness of breath or a cough should call their healthcare providers. Those who live in Manchester, but do not have a primary care provider, can call 603-668-1547 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

-Mary McIntyre

On Town Meeting Day, Many Note New Tension

Updated Saturday, March 14 at 2:40 p.m. 

Late Friday, state officials confirmed that a seventh person in New Hampshire has tested positive for the COVID-19 cononavirus illness.

In many New Hampshire communities, today is Town Meeting day. Several New Hampshire towns postponed town and school meetings scheduled for this weekend, but others moved forward. Some, like the town of Webster, kept to the original schedule.

Paul King was wearing rubber gloves at Webster town hall today, but only because he was handling food. He sees the threat from the virus as low but understands that some are concerned.

“Yeah, just get the budget through and get out of here as quickly as we can, so less chance of anything happening, but it is what it is,” King said. 

Moderator Mike Jette says given that local risks seem low right now, moving ahead was prudent.

“So, our sense is to conduct business as normal, then we’ll be set, and know where we are,” Jettu said. “We also thought about a delay, you know, if this thing continues to escalate, it’s just kind of delaying it into a worse situation.”

Not all local officials agreed. Nancy Webster is the town's supervisor of the checklist.

“I think it should have been cancelled,” she said. “I think social distancing is how you lessen the impact of the pandemic.”

Chichester and Henniker also held their meetings today. Communities that postponed town or school meetings this weekend include Bow, Hopkinton, Loudon, and Enfield.

The attorney general's office issued advice Friday letting towns know that they have the authority to reschedule town meetings in cases of emergency, as long as they properly alert residents.

Seventh person tests positive; state warns of potential exposure at Manchester DMV

  Update: Friday, March 13, 10:35 p.m.

A seventh New Hampshire resident has tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.  The person is an adult female resident from Rockingham County, according to a press release from the state Department of Health and Human Services. 

The person was at the Manchester DMV office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday of last week, and on Tuesday of this week.  State officials have not said whether the person was a DMV employee.

State health officials say anyone who was at the Manchester DMV during those hours should monitor themselves for symptoms of a fever, cough and other respiratory illness. Anyone who was at the Manchester DMV during those hours and develops those symptoms should remain at home and call their doctor.

Elizabeth Bielecki, director of the state Division of Motor Vehicles, said DMV staff had been told in recent days to step up their regular cleaning procedures, including wiping down high-contact surfaces like counters and doorknobs.